Spatial and temporal correlates of mass bird mortality in oil sands tailings ponds
A report prepared for Alberta Environment by
Colleen Cassady St. Clair, Thomas Habib, and Bryon Shore,
10 November 2011Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada T6G 2E9
On October 25 and 26, 2010, 547 dead birds were recovered and recorded by operators in the oilsands region of Alberta. These deaths exceeded the occasional mortalities that are reported byoperators in a typical year and resulted in an investigation by Alberta Environment. As part of that investigation, Cory McLaughlin, an investigating officer with Alberta Environment, askedme to address the questions that follow. More information on the context of that request andsubsequent discussions is included in the cover letter to Cory that accompanies this report. Iaddress each of the questions below and conclude each with a set of conclusions. I provideadditional synthetic conclusions and recommendations at the end of the report. Three appendicesfollow the report detailing weather and GIS information. Answers to my questions includeseveral additional tables and figures that are referenced within the text.The main conclusions of my analyses are as follows:1.
Adverse weather conditions undoubtedly contributed to the recoveries recorded onOctober 25 and 26, 2010. Adverse conditions included strong and variable winds, precipitation, dense cloud cover, and darkness. There is no evidence that the recovered birds were in ill health, but the positions of deterrents and artificial lights may haveinfluenced where birds landed and, hence, the probability of encountering bitumen(below).2.
Based on prior information, it would have been difficult to predict the precise landinglocations on October 25 and 26. However, synthesizing the available literature wouldhave anticipated the potential and approximate roles of adverse weather, lower deterrentdensities, and proximity to the Athabasca River. The analyses in this report combinedwith analyses of both past and future landing events of smaller magnitude will make it possible to increase the predictability of landing events in space and time. No one has
Adjustments to this report were completed in July 2012 in response to new information aboutthe locations and numbers of birds that were recovered in the days following October 25, 2010.Further minor changes were made on 13 September 2012 to accommodate a review of FOIPPregulations. Original and tracked changes versions of this document are available upon request.
Habib and Shore assisted in the GIS and weather analysis, respectively, and will be authors ona related publication. This report is written in first person singular to reflect the methodologicalideas and opinions for which St. Clair is responsible.